"Culture Through Music & Song" University Course

Because of my personal enthusiasms I wanted to run a course at my university linking music and song to EFL. I started a course called Culture Through Music and Song and gathered lots of information that I looked forward to passing on - history, geography, lots of musical information especially focussed on my own interests in traditional and 60s music.

I have been running it for two years now, and pretty quickly I realised that it was unfair to expect Japanese students 18-20 years old to share my personal enthusiasms for rather niche aspects of British/American music. Whenever I asked them to make presentations of their own they always went for very mainstream contemporary pop artists and of course rather more modern than my own passions. I supported them but I felt it was a bit off my main beam. I soon knew I had to change my expectations. It was well intended, but retrospectively I guess it was a bit idealistic if not selfish of me. Part of this is due to the generation gap of course (I'm the same age as their mothers), but another part comes down to the history of cultural transfer.

When you teach our students you have to strike a compromise. They don't have great English, but they are interested in other cultures - music, places, people, but especially music - it's an international currency with lots of 'street-cred' tags. As a teacher, you want to expand their horizons of course, but you also need to nurture their own enthusiasms and guide them towards fulfilling their own desires; it's pretty cool to them to know about British and American music. Quickly I realised that in order to hold their attention I had to at least show them the links between the old (my field) and the new (their aspiration). That was one key realisation I made pretty early on. Next, I had to keep them lively - I wanted this course to be a bit different: more participatory and more active in ways different from their regular English language curriculum. They do lots of other lessons with reading and homework prints. My potential role in this elective course was to fire up their energy for this and their other courses by giving them a reason for all their learning. I worked hard on trying to find their enthusiasms but I soon realised they didn't have much of a basis to start from. They didn't know much beyond the very mainstream, so although they were enthusiastic they simply weren't aware of the variety of directions they could pursue.

Recently, for the third year of this course, I changed tactic radically. I cut down on text and facts and focused mainly on really salient, chunky, major vocabulary, lots of pictures for visual memory, brief listening for lyrics on lots of different songs, and more and more active singing (selecting songs I/they could easily play on guitar, and giving them close-test lyric sheets that we could eventually sing together from). So far it seems to be working well. They get lots of leads so that they can follow up independently on anything they are very interested in (they all have internet access and iPods or similar) and in class we don't get bogged down in any one story. For the pix above I use Gerry and the Pacemakers' You'll Never Walk Alone (Liverpool unit) and Ewan MacColl's/The Pogues' 'Dirty Old Town' (Manchester unit re Salford).

It's not a tough course, but students get out what they put in. In the last few weeks of the semester they have to make a presentation that teaches their classmates about some musical theme connected to a cultural theme. They make a hand-out and spend about 15-20 minutes each presenting a talk and a song. Even the lowest-level speakers can do it, and, since the course is still changing it is possible for them to come back and do it again annually without repeating content. This year I have four repeaters who all passed well last year but are back for more, I guess because they enjoyed it. In the end I think that giving them a reason to enjoy this and other English courses is a pretty big step in itself.

After Visitors

It's always nice to have house guests in Kyoto. When you live and work here that's just what you do: live and work. But when you have guests, you too become a visitor. You share your guests' wonder at how different it is from 'home', and you see everything afresh. The latest contingent fully appreciated as many delights of Kyoto and Hiroshima as their short stay would allow and I felt again that I lived in a fantastic place that is eager, beautiful and inspiring. Their music was hungrily received by lots of local people, many of whom have expressed their hopes that those guys will all come back soon for more. Me too - good guests are a blessing aren't they? Their spirit and energy carries you onward long after their departure. ありがとうね


Arthur & Stewart - April 2010

Happy Hanami! Happy Hanami!
Spring is in the air and some great musicians from England are visiting Japan. They have just completed a tour organised by Tokyo Fiddle Club and now they'll play three pub gigs...DAVE ARTHUR & DAN STEWART BAND...Don't miss DAVE ARTHUR (pictured) on 5 string banjo, melodeon/concertina, and vocals & DAN STEWART on 5-string banjo, guitar and vocals. In their BAND they sing and play excellent Appalachian, Oldtime, Bluegrass, Irish and English music.

Catch them at...
Gnome Irish Pub (Nijo Kawaramachi sagaru), Weds April 7th 8-11pm
Field Irish Pub (Karasuma Nishiki-market Higashi-iru) Thurs April 8th 8-10.30pm
Molly Malone's, Hiroshima, Friday April 9th.
These events are free, and all these pubs serve good food.
Bring your friends - the band will!
Fieldの 洲崎一彦さんから...。4/8木曜日、fieldにて、20時~Dave Arthur and Dan Stewart with Friends・Dave Arthur / banjo,melodion,guitar,vocal・Dan Stewart / banjo,guitar,vocal・Pete Cooper / fiddle,vocalとして案内しておりました、Rattle On the Stovepipe というイギリスのトラディショナルバンドのライブがあります。一般にオールドタイムと呼ばれているアメリカのアパラチア山脈に伝わる伝統曲は元はスコットランドを中心としたアイルランドやイングランドからの移民がもたらしたブリテン諸島の音楽を起源とするものが多いのですが、このバンドは同じ曲をアメリカに渡る前、後というメドレーを組む等、これまでには無かった視野でトラッドミュージックを聴かせてくれます。このバンドのメンバーが日本で3人揃うという状況は実は珍しいことらしく、今後生で彼らの音楽を聴ける機会はほとんどないと行っても良い貴重なライブです。皆様のお越しをお待ちしております。このチャンスをお見逃し無く!(ライブは通常どおり投げ銭制です)

Singing Around the Table XI

The next 'Singing Around the Table' is ....Thursday 29th April - a National Holiday!